Another month, another opportunity to write about topics that circulate across design centric publications, forums and workshops. Design Thinking and the relationship with Design Processes, is something I’ve decided to tackle this time around. My reasons to tackle this topic, derive from the fact that throughout my experience I’ve been very fortunate to be a part of organizations where the Design discipline was considered an equal partner and an actual differentiating factor from a sea of competitors, but I’ve also been in organizations where the discipline was mostly seen as a production centric facility, in existence solely to provide services and not actually provide solutions. With the tremendous success that has been achieved by widely known companies, some of which have placed a large responsibility for those laurels with the Design discipline, there’s been an obvious thirst for many other companies, some veterans in their field, some others barely starting, to incorporate Design Thinking into their DNA. This is actually something very similar to what I described in one of my earlier articles about Innovation, and how to bring that type of philosophy and approach to an organization: recognizing its usefulness is indeed imperative, but in order to successfully understand what it entails and how it can be made part of an organism as complex as an organization is an entirely different situation and challenge. There are plenty of Workshops and currently plenty of Speakers going around, selling the concept of “Design Thinking” to whomever will hear them. And thankfully so — even if at times the messaging needs some polish, adequacy to its listeners, and ultimately contextualization, the fact that there are professionals out there teaching and educating about Design Thinking is in fact a good thing. Hopefully it’s something that will lead to more integrated solutions, better collaboration between teams and ultimately to rewarding experiences and products to be enjoyed by all.
1.How does an organization recognize the importance of Design Thinking, how does it make a successful education, approach, implementation and adoption — Having witnessed several workshops and different presenters explain the concept of Design Thinking to eclectic crowds, it typically provokes a repetitive realization on me. Designers, Speakers and Consultants who have been a part of successful organizations which have implemented Design Thinking processes and methodologies, can’t really communicate how their experiences are applicable to the different groups they tend to present these findings to. Part of that issue lies with the lack of presentational skills, communication skills, and ultimately not knowing how to prepare a presentation that has to satisfy eclectic groups with different experiences and expectations. But another crucial reason lies in the fact that every experience is a deeply personal one, and trying to replicate one experience and solution on a vastly different organization, group, industry, team, may not always produce the same exact results. To give a specific example pertaining to my professional career: I taught Design (Web & Multimedia Products, Video for Web) for many years in Professional Institutes. I am a certified trainer, and as such, was presented with groups that were diversified in their backgrounds, including education and professional expertises. I taught groups which included seasoned professionals from CISCO for instance, to younger Design professionals fresh out of college wanting to learn about Web Products and Applications. The common denominator and challenge is always understanding the backgrounds, expectations, and prepare the content in a way that is rewarding for all audiences. Ultimately, build presentations, content that is engaging, and case studies that can build a bridge to everyone’s personal experiences. What I’m trying to say with this, is that when an organization recognizes that the Design discipline can be a differentiating factor, and produce value for the company, this is something to applaud. But this is the very beginning of the journey, and in order to make this a successful expedition, much like a trekking exploration, there has to be research, preparation of participants, collection of materials indispensable for the journey, clarification of goals, points of reflection, pause, identification of possible mistakes, and eventually find ing the perfect spot (the KPI that everyone wants to define). Recognizing the importance of Design as a partner is effectively crucial, but that is something that needs to be educated and shared across teams. Explaining that Design Thinking involves different steps, such as Understanding, Exploring and Materializing is of course crucial, but more than that, before defining and implementing without reason, there is a need of finding Designers who can communicate this process (effective Designers are in many ways, facilitators, educators and catalysts). Design Thinking isn’t only about figuring out innovative solutions through an articulated process, it’s ultimately about reaching a collaboration and a balance where the solutions are effectively reached, but through a democratic participation, where everyone gets to have a stake in the success of what is being delivered to the user. In order to implement and internalize this process, there has to be a sharing and education of what the process is about, and that can only be done by integrating efforts, by understanding the intricacies of businesses, the complexity of different organizations. Being able to diagnose all this internally (and marrying it with an assessment of the outside competitive landscape, trends, industry standards, market evolution, political and ecological environment), makes for a more realistic, understandable and ultimately usable Design Thinking process and approach in any organization.
2.How is a successful marriage built between Design Thinking Methodologies and an effective Design Process — Building a successful marriage is not an easy task, it is one that typically requires a lot of understanding, time, attention and mutual efforts. Design Thinking with its intricacies and processes, typically marries well with a well structured Design Process since they both rely on a progressive rollout of efforts, but also collaboration and integration of efforts. Design Thinking is structured around the Understanding, Exploring and Materializing trifecta, which dabble in specific tasks, all in the attempt to define a product & solution in a user centered way. Among the tasks are stepping stones such as Empathizing, Defining, Iterating/Ideating, Prototyping, Testing and Implementing, all of which are wide canvases for the design process to flourish, from research (including ethnographic studies, usability testing), through competitive analysis, incubation workshops (with sketching exercises, business centered activities that map out an MVP), to the typical design process layers, until the product is achieved, one that is anchored in staples such as sustainability, credibility, accessibility and of course, usability. A successful Design Process is one that understands the mandates that underline the Design Thinking methodology, and repurposes what it needs to the variables of the organization in which it operates. The goal is to achieve successful user centered solutions, but educate, refine and integrate internal efforts and practices in the process. The solutions can only be as successful and effective, as the internal processes and convergence of capabilities is done in a structured way, where Design and specifically its professionals, can facilitate all these joint efforts.
I’ll summarize this article by initially stating the obvious: Design is an effective differentiating factor. However Design Thinking isn’t a formula that can be brandished around, much like a powdered formula. Every organization has its own intricacies, history, challenges, and much like an individual, its own allergies and resistances to changing certain habits. The education, integration, and leading by example are tasks that Design professionals can and should be doing in their organizations. Building bridges, is not just a way to get to the other side, it’s a way to learn more about our peers, about different experiences, and that’s what ultimately the Design Thinking process is all about. Accounting for differences, perspectives, and aligning it with what Users have to say, think and feel. This overall convergence hopefully results in what those desired successful KPIs are all about.